If it wasn't for me, your next extended period of time in the TEAM Invitational Tournament would involve countless hours of listening to DC Stark tell you how he was robbed by being the number five seed, and who are you to be seeded above him, and if you were really good at this you'd have won last year or the year before, and it's too bad you've faced off with him in the second round because you're going to lose in a horrible, one sided match against him.
Because he's the future, after all.
No, Ravager, you won't hear any of that from me, and I'll probably not bring him up again.
Probably. It depends on you.
For the moment, my economy camera is pointed at the tape I wore on my left hand and wrist for my first round match. It's been cut off, but you can plainly see the letters JFZ written on them.
"One down, four to go."
"That's what it'll take to win the 2009 Invitational Tournament, after all. I never had any doubt I'd get to the second round; my confidence in what I can do is that high."
"But this is where my trip takes a sharp left turn, in the shape of a man called Ravager."
Anywhere else, and I might goof on your name. Not that Impulse is much better, but I'm reminded of Tim Curry in the movie Clue. 'I'm merely a humble Ravager. I ravage, sir.'
"It's no laughing matter, however. You made it to the finals last year, only to get stopped by Mike Randalls. Most people would consider that a moral victory, regardless."
I certainly would. I think it's written in the Big Book of Wrestling Knowledge, that the strategy for wrestling Mike Randalls is as follows: you lose.
So you lost. I would've probably lost, too. Most of the field this year has lost to Mike Randalls.
"Since it took a match against Mike Randalls to take you out of the field last year, you have to be considered by most to be the heavy favorite to take it all. Hex, if I wasn't involved this year, my money would be on you."
In fact, I think my roommate did bet on you. Remind me to pound him later.
"Unfortunately, our paths have crossed. That means I'm going to have to work my hardest to make sure yours ends with me. No ego, no ill will, no hard feelings... just bad luck. We all get it from time to time."
"This is simply my year."
No, it's not my time, where you don't know what trouble is. And I'm not nearly as arrogant to say that I'm owed this. I'm not.
But, neither are you.
"This is going to be the toughest match you're going to wrestle in the Team Invitational Tournament this year, Ravager. I'd even go so far as to say it'll be toughest match you've wrestled since your final match in last year's tournament. If I have anything to say about it, the outcome will be the same, too."
Of course, it's possible your actions will speak louder than mine, but there's no law against optimism, right?
Even when it's not optimism.
"But, if you're able to get past me, you can kick up your feet and relax on easy street."
"So to speak. Don't actually do that."
"But, again, if you're able to get past me, you should definitely keep your mindset the same, because your third round, fourth round, and fifth round opponents won't give you nearly as much trouble."
'I'm the man! I'm the greatest wrestler in the world! You should be on your hands and knees, thanking whatever god you believe in that I allow you in my ring!'
'Oh yeah? I got past Impulse.'
Maybe I exaggerate, but aren't we in the business of limitless hyperbole?
"But, cubed, your third round opponent doesn't exist. To say nothing of your fourth round, fifth round, and all the way up however high it goes."
"Neither does mine."
"I'm all that exists to you right now, Ravager, and you're all that exists to me. Nothing else in TEAM matters until this is settled."
Almost nothing, at least.
"You said something against your first round opponent, Ravager, that's got me worried. Let me go to the tape for the official record."
I swung the camera around to the brand new flatscreen television in my living room, which showed a black 'INPUT' screen. There was some sound of... well, something, as I dug for the oversized remote control with far too many buttons.
Ah! There we go. The DVR jumped to life, showing, well - you.
"Every man in this tournament will scratch, claw, betray, and sacrifice to get to the top. I've had to do it, I'm sure you've had to do it, so why pretend like we're going to do anything else?"
"Scratch, claw, betray, and sacrifice."
I'd like to repeat that, because it sounds vaguely important.
"Scratch, claw, betray, and sacrifice. Let's start from the end, Ravager. Sacrifice? You'd bet your life we're both willing to sacrifice what we have - and in some cases more than we have for the sake of the next match. I can extrapolate that from what I know of you, and I can speak for myself because I'm me. When it comes to myself and this sport, nothing matters except the next mission."
Right now, that would be you.
"I have issue with scratching, clawing, and betrayal, Ravager. Scratching and clawing carries with it a certain implication of senseless violence, and that's something I can't support. I'll beat you, and I'll beat you decisively, but I won't try to hurt you or humiliate you. There's no cause for that."
There's never a cause for that.
"I also don't believe that betrayal has any place in this business. If I say I'm going to beat you, it means I'm going to try my darnedest to do just that; to get involved with clandestine operations that would involve winning your trust only to turn around and screw you out of something you've rightly earned is something that I couldn't live with."
For example, anyways.
"My philosophy has always been, if I can't beat someone straight up, I didn't deserve to win. So that's something to put your mind at ease, right?"
No, you've still got an uphill battle to get the 'W' on me, Ravager, but at least you know you won't have to watch for flying metal.
"You seem to be big on respect, Ravager; so am I. I want this match to happen in the worst possible way, so please just do me one favor: hold nothing back."
Backstage after the latest NAPW show. Ravager is winding down in the locker room after his match.
But he still has his focus on one thing...
And so I move on to the second round. I get past one tough opponent, and run smack dab into another. Only difference?
There are no more surprises from here on out. Now, no disrespect to Cassady, but I was expected to beat him. It didn't matter that he is a ring veteran, and a sound opponent. All that matters was he was the bottom seed. Now?
Impulse. That man who had the match of the night in the first round. A man who gave everything he had in the ring. A man who electrified the fans and did the sport proud. And the only way he'll surprise me is if he gives me anything less than his best. He says he'll hold nothing back. I believe him. But what I don't believe is that this is his year.
Ravager chuckles humorlessly.
Sorry friend. But its too early for that. Not when I have something to settle. You talked about me getting a moral victory making it to the finals last year. All I saw was another man getting his hand raised while I made the long walk up the aisle to the locker room. I don't feel victorious. I don't feel like a champion, even after holding the TEAM Challenge title for two years. And I don't feel respected, even after all the time I've fought here. People talk well about me, but there's always a but:
But he can't win the big one.
Every TEAM tournament I'm in, I do a little bit better. But I always come up short. Last year it was Mike Randalls. This year? It could be you, Impulse. You could be the man who keeps my TEAM futility record intact. You could join the ranks of Fusenhoff and Mike Randalls as the guys who made their name mean more by beating me.
Notice I say could.
You're good. You could be great. But this year? You're the man who is going to push me to the limits, and set the bar for all my future opponents. Right now, you're the most important opponent I'll ever face. Because if I lose to you?
I'll lose more than just a match. I'll lose more than just my spot in the tournament. I'll lose face. I'll prove my critics right. And I'll be back at square one when it comes to TEAM. So all I can say Impulse:
What I need trumps what you want. You have a lot to win, but I have even more to lose. So. I promise you a clean match. I'll give you my respect. But I won't give an inch, and I won't end my assault until I hear your hand tap or the ref's hand hit the map three times. The future is bright for you Impulse. It won't look that way after we face. But you will learn from this. Just as I had to learn. Only thing is...
You wouldn't know it except that I just told you. But that's okay, it doesn't really matter. Besides, I'm in a basement.
And, it's ironic - Ravager just finished a match, and I'm about to have one. Makes you think.
"It's nice of you to say, Ravager, but I don't know that I had the match of the night in the first round. It was just another night of work."
Win or lose, that's what matches are. Just another day at the office.
"You can win the big one, Ravager. You can get past me, and all the way to the finals, and remove the choker from around your neck. I believe you can do it, and the Team Challenge title you carry on your shoulder would certainly indicate the same."
"But I can do it, too."
"What you need, Ravager, trumps what I want to you. I sympathize, but I'm not here to help you get what you need, because it goes against what I want. And while I don't want you to lose face, or be slapped with a label of 'choke artist,' I have to ask a serious question."
"Who would you lose face to, and why would you care?"
If your career is tied to the opinions of faceless masses who probably couldn't last five minutes with you, or me, or Randalls for that matter, then I think you have a flawed perspective.
"I meant it when I said this is going to be the toughest match you'll have in the 2009 Team Invitational, Ravager, but your point of view of every match being this life or death, win or choke game of chance won't hold up for three more rounds."
"After all, even if you get past me, you'd be in the same position in the third round. You have to win or be labeled a choker. Retread of a retread of a retread."
Not everybody wins every match, Ravager. Sometimes the losses are simply inconveniently placed.
"You're not at square one, Ravager; you're in the second round of TEAM's current promotion. You'll be at square one next year, too, just like everyone else. That's the beauty of TEAM, sir. Everyone is on the same level, and momentum does not carry between events. We get in the van and do our time, then it's time to get out and wait for the next mission."
That's how I know I can beat you: we're on the exact same level.
"You claim to have something to settle, Ravager, but you need to settle it with the people who beat you in years past. This tournament has nothing to do with last year's, or the year before's. Or the Challenge title you hold. Or the Champion of Champions title. Nothing will be settled by your winning or losing the 2009 Team Invitational Tournament, since none of the men who beat you the past two years are involved."
But, are you really a choker? You lost last year to Randalls and the year before to Fuse, the current Champion of Champions. That's not choking, Ravager, that's business. I would have thought a wrestler of your caliber to know the difference.
"If I lose this round, Ravager, I'll be disappointed, sure, but I won't consider it a choke. I'll consider it a night where you were fortunate enough to win. Next year, if my schedule permits, I'll wrestle in the Tournament again, and if it doesn't I won't."
"But there won't be any sense of required redemption if I don't win this year, Ravager. It'll be a new tournament with new opponents and a new story for everyone."
Let's get back to you.
"What you need now, though, is a new story. Your tale of redemption is doomed to fail, because there's no need for it. Multi time World Champion, reigning Team Challenge champion, and you're obsessing over a tournament that ended two years ago where you were bounced by the reigning Champion of Champions, and a tournament that ended one year ago where you were bounced by the man widely acknowledged as the greatest wrestler of the past fifty years at least? "
"You say you have something to settle, I say your jackpot went belly up along with thirty other individuals last year and the year before, and trying to gain psychological closure in 2009 in a new city, with a new game and new rules, is doomed to fail."
How we deal with failure is more important to our character than how we deal with success. Didn't anyone ever tell you that?
"Randalls and Fuse aren't here, but you're still fighting against the lingering effects that their victories over you had on you."
"And you can't ever get the ghosts in your head to tap out."
Apparently I had something to teach you after all.
Ravager, standing in front of a TEAM Invitational Banner. He has the Challenge Title draped over his shoulder. And he looks a bit better than he did after his last video...
You speak a lot of truth, Impulse. So far this tournament has blessed me with opponents who have a lot of wisdom. But like Cassady before you, there is one big problem...
You don't know me as well as you think you do.
People see me as a man who obsesses over every loss. And to a certain extent, I do. But no, Impulse, the ghosts of Fusenhoff and Mike Randalls don't occupy my dreams, tormenting me with memories of their victories over me. I bring them up, because it would be a disservice to them not to mention them. And it would make me look foolish not to acknowledge my failures as well as my success. You know what they say about those who choose to ignore history... I do think about those losses. As well as my losses in the past three Tournament of Champions. In part to keep me humble. And in part to keep me motivated.
Impulse. My focus on Fusenhoff beating me? It drove me through three dominant opponents until I ran into Randalls. Each year I have gone farther and farther in the ToC. I don't dwell on failure. I learn. I adapt. And I improve. I showed it last year, and I'll show it again this year. I only need to improve by one more win. An attainable goal, to be sure. But to get to it, I have to beat you. Now, I'll be willing to shake your hand after the match if you win. I'll be willing to root for you to make it to the finals, if you win. I can do that.
But I'd rather help you up off the mat, and hold your hand up in appreciation of your effort, that came up just short. I'd rather shake your hand and tell you "your time will come". I don't want to think of "what ifs". I want to focus on the facts. I am tournament tested, an undefeated champion, and a man with very few things left to prove. It just so happens Impulse, that you stand in the way of one last thing I need to prove. And thats a shame.
Never mind, old joke. Anyways, I've got a TEAM banner, too. If a napkin with the word TEAM written on it with a sharpie counts as a banner. But we're zoomed in tight on it so that the word fills most of the camera.
It's all about a forced perspective.
"I never said I knew you, Ravager. I wouldn't even think it. Don't know your real name, don't know where you started in the wrestling business, don't even know what you're entrance music is."
Randall Knox, New Frontier Wrestling, and Revolution, Baby. I'm all about fairness.
"What I know is the sport of professional wrestling. What I know, is how my opponents think. What I know... is how to move about inside my opponents' psyche."
"No, I don't know you, Ravager, but the way you talk about TEAM tells me that this tournament keeps you up nights. The way you continue to reference Fusenshoff and Randalls tells me that you do dwell on your failures here."
My bringing them up probably doesn't help. But let's stay on you.
"Undefeated champion for two years, but you still have something to prove. Some might call that the obsession of a desperate man. I'm glad you say you'll be willing to shake my hand if I win, and root for me to make it all the way to the finals."
"But I wonder, can you really do it?"
"I don't mean win. You can certainly win. I mean, if you don't win, can you actually shake my hand and say good match, kiddo - give 'em hell? Everything about you screams I can't accept anything short of total perfection, which tells me that anything (or anyone) that gets in the way of your total perfection becomes your enemy."
"Learning is good. Adapting is better. I wouldn't've made it over a year in the most insane wrestling promotion currently operating, wrestling the way I do, if I couldn't learn and adapt. But the fact that you're viewing this year's TEAM as your path to redemption tells me that you are dwelling on last year and the year before. You said it yourself - you do think about those losses."
"They're just losses, man, like I said. Everyone in this sport has more than they want, and couldn't have helped all but a handful."
"Two years ago, I was finishing up my last semester of college, and last year, I was coming off my first official professional win. Juxtapose that with your own career, Ravager. You're trying to come to terms with two losses to men who moved far beyond what you were trying to do instead of taking them as they are and learning from them. I took my three months of loss at the opening of my career as something to build on, and I never looked back at any of 'em."
They shaped me into who I am, and I'm pretty darn happy with it. Your losses to Fuse and Randalls shaped you, and while it's good that you've built on the experience, your obsessive dwelling (let's be honest) isn't healthy for the soul.
"And like I said - trying to wrestle the ghosts of Tournaments Past will doom you to failure in 2009 all the same."
"No skin off my back, though. Any victory I can obtain on my own honor and my own skills is a victory I'll take."
"I can't help it if my opponent can't see the Messenger, because he's blinded by the Wolf."
Whyte Avenue. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Ravager walking down the street, not really enjoying the sunny day.
The day I let the weather dictate my moods is the day I put a bullet through my brain. And the day I let myself be controlled by the ghosts of the past is the day I give up wrestling.
Impulse. You mistake focus for obsession. You think I'm doing this to avenge a loss to two men? No. The wrestler may beat me. But what I lost was more than a match. I've had losing streaks, to be sure. Every wrestler has. And I don't look back on those losses as critical failures.
Fusenhoff came out of nowhere to beat me. Since then he has won the Champion of Champions title. I have the Challenge title, a belt I am proud of, but one that TEAM can never find the opponent for me to defend it against. I see a man who took a major step forward with a win over me. And it kind of stings.
Randalls? A legend to be sure. But I thought I had a chance. For months I toiled to get to the finals, only to be denied. A letdown to be sure. But if I had lost to Ronaldohino or some other wrestler, it would have stung just as much. I feel no shame losing to those men. But I didn't lose the match. I lost the tournament. I lost glory. I lost some respect. Sure, people talk about how well I did, but really, all they have for me is pity. Respect on the other hand...
Respect has to be earned. And the best way to earn that is by winning. Often, cleanly, and decisively. And I mean to do that this year. I will win the TEAM Invitational. I will beat the best and brightest. I've already started, and I mean to continue with you, Impulse. And I mean everything I said. I will shake your hand, win or lose. I will show you the respect you deserve.
But I will win. Not just because I need to.
But because I want to. I want it more than you truly realize. You're wiser than your years should allow, but you still have a lot to learn. And when we face off, I will be your teacher. Your lesson will be harsh, but fair. You will be educated. You will be better for what I do to you. And your future will be bright...
Just not your immediate future.
See you soon, Impulse. This is going to be memorable.
I love nights like this. I love 'em and hate 'em. I like when it's busy, because my girl can make some money, but when it's dead like this we can actually hang out and spend some time together.
And of course, it means I can use the back table to film a promo if the mood strikes me.
Does it? Oh, it does...)
"I think somewhere along the way, in the midst of the mutual admiration society-fest that Ravager and I got caught up in, the spirit of this match and what it represents was lost. It's nice to hear that my opponent understands propriety and respect; but I think Ravager is getting confused between what he wants and what he needs."
"What you need, Ravager, is a meal and a chance to get some sleep. What you need is to continue wrestling well enough for fans to pay to see you again and keep your career at the level you want."
Everything else is superfluous. Everything else is vanity.
"Winning is not the path to respect, Ravager. Using victory as a crutch for respect is unmitigated pride, pure and simple."
Is that what this single-mindedness is about, Ravager? Your pride? If that's what it's all about, you've lost already.
"Me, I'm fighting for myself and for the integrity of my home. With Cameron Cruise waving the flag for Empire Pro Wrestling, I'm the sole survivor of New Frontier Wrestling this year, and I consider it both an honor and a duty to bring the 2009 Team Invitational Tournament victory home."
I smiled, as I took a drink. One for me--
"--and one for my homies."
(You're cleaning that up, called Rosie from the bar. Yes, dear.)
"Your mantra from round one, to scratch, claw, betray, and sacrifice to get what you want, would seem to run counter to your attempts to gain respect, which says to me that you're mainly looking for self - respect. Which is it? Or does it depend on who your opponent is?"
Self - respect through betrayal is never a good idea.
"Am I reading too much into it, Ravager? Maybe. But I can only comment on the things you say. I'm a wrestler, not a psychiatrist."
"And, more significantly, I'm your next opponent. Wrestling 101, Ravager; where's the last place you want your opponent to be?"
Behind you, with you locked in a hold, or above you while you're on the mat? Good try, but no.
"The last place you want your opponent to be is in your head."
The people who try and get in my head are the ones who get hurt the most Impulse. Just saying.
Fade in on Ravager, as he packs things up before heading to catch his plane.
You're right. You're no psychologist. You say I fight for pride. And that's true. Any man who steps in that ring and claims that he doesn't have some degree of personal pride on the line is a liar. Even you Impulse. You say you do this in the name of Empire Pro Wrestling and yourself. As an honor and a duty. I'm sorry friend, but I can see the pride in your eyes as you speak those words. And the vanity to think that this match is about more than simple vanity.
I am proud of everything I've done back home in NAPW. I wrestled in the very first match they ever had. I've held almost every title there was to win there. And I've traveled the World wrestling for them, or representing them. But in TEAM, that matters little. I've been told time and again that what I've done outside TEAM is a moot point. It's what I do in the TEAM ring that counts. So when I fight in the Invitational, I fight for myself. I fight for my pride. I fight with the pride of the TEAM Challenge Champion. I fight for the pride of TEAM, an organization that has given me work for almost three years. Pride can be a crutch, Impulse. But it can also be a great motivator. You see, I don't want my pride hurt again. And to avoid that?
I'm going to have to beat you. And I will earn your respect doing it. Just like every other opponent I've had. They may hate me. They may want to cripple me.
But they always respect me. Because I give my all for every company I've worked for, and I give my best for every opponent I've ever had. And that's out of pride. Not just in myself, but for this sport. If you don't feel even the slightest sense of pride, Impulse...
"It appears I may have misjudged you. For all your talk about respect and honor, it's all a smokescreen, isn't it?"
The people who try and get in my head are the ones who get hurt the most, Impulse. Just saying.
"The smile and respect hide a ruthless nature, hmmm? There's no threat, there's no ranting and raving, there's just an offhanded observation that I'm going to get hurt."
"I'm sorry - not me. The people who try and get in your head, just like I commented that I was."
Offhanded and passive - aggressive. Two for two.
"You might beat me, Ravager, and go on to overcome your insecurities by winning the Team Invitational, but you won't hurt me. You can't hurt me."
"And I'm already in your head, Ravager. I know what makes you keep going."
Pride and obsession, Ravager... Pride and obsession.
"Pride can be a useful tool, Ravager. A man is proud of his achievements, and expresses it in low - key, subdued fashion. He uses that to keep stepping forward."
"Looking at your record and status in NAPW, it appears you've had quite a few accomplishments and things to be proud of."
Unfortunately, your pride gave way to arrogance.
"How do I know this? Fusenshoff and Mike Randalls. You were so accustomed to being the man, that when the time came that you were stopped cold in TEAM, you didn't know how to cope with it. Quite the contrary, you refused to accept it."
"Why else would you have continued to bring the past two years up? I can see how losing to Fuse might make you determined to come back and try again, but Randalls?"
"That's when determination turned into obsession."
Tell me I'm wrong, and that's when I'll be forced to call you a liar.
"NAPW and NFW don't matter here, Ravager. My point about being the sole survivor of NFW this year was simply that - I'm the sole survivor of NFW this year and would love to win this one for my hometown crew."
You're the one who took that point to the next level, and made me realize how far your pride, arrogance, and obsession actually go.
"You don't have to earn my respect, Ravager - you already have it unless you consciously act to lose it. My analysis of your moves and motivation doesn't diminish it in the slightest. All it means is that I'm as in sync as I can possibly be with how you think. We play the cards we're dealt, Ravager, and sometimes we draw the impossible hand."
"You asked me if I was sure that I was ready for you, Ravager... and the answer, I would wager, is obvious. I wonder, though, if you are ready for me?"
Ravager, you threatened me passively, for being in your head. How can I be in the wrong when you practically invited me in?
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